All The Ways Video Games Are Designed For Addiction
Photo: Candy Crush / King Games

All The Ways Video Games Are Designed For Addiction

Maybe you hoard books or collect every piece of movie memorabilia, but it's video game addiction that really takes the cake. Some games are deliberately designed to get players hooked and keep them playing by encouraging them to spend more time and money to unlock that next loot box or upgrade. 

Video games designed to get you habitually playing often start with a simple premise: fun. Few players will keep playing a game if they're not getting some kind of enjoyment out of it, and the best way to lure new players in is to promise a healthy dose of fun up front. The way video games trigger addiction is by following that up with little tricks that make players want to shell out more time and money. It's not that you shouldn't play these games - most of them are as popular for their addictive qualities as for their fun gameplay - but it doesn't hurt to understand how and why these games get and hold your attention.

  • Games Fill Your Time With Meaningless Grinding To Keep Your Subscription Money

    Games Fill Your Time With Meaningless Grinding To Keep Your Subscription Money
    Photo: World of Warcraft / Blizzard Entertainment

    An RPG player knows the word "grind" all too well. It refers to the amount of time spent slaying monsters, completing quests, and slogging through repetitive gameplay to get a character strong enough to progress. In subscription-based games like MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), grinding is a whole different animal.

    In an MMORPG like World of Warcraft, not only are you spending valuable time doing the same tasks over and over, but you're paying for the privilege of doing it. Requiring players to grind out hours of dungeons and raids for a chance at the right drop keeps them playing longer and earns the company more money. That doesn't mean grinding can't be fun, but extending the time it takes to get the highest-tier gear feels a bit like exploitation.

  • Some Games Allow You To Skip Tedious Grinding By Paying

    Some Games Allow You To Skip Tedious Grinding By Paying
    Photo: InnoGames

    Some games include grinding, but rather than milking players for money through subscription fees, a tempting skip button is dangled in front of them. Instead of having to wait for tasks to finish in a game like Elvenar, a player can spend a few diamonds to get the job done. Diamonds are obtained primarily by spending real money, and though they're not required to progress through the game, they certainly make it a lot easier.

    Often games like this don't tell players the best ways to spend their in-game currency. Players are loaded up with such gems early in the game and indirectly encouraged to squander them on temporary fixes rather than lasting applications. And later on, it makes them want to buy more. Sure, the games are free and fun, but there's definite pressure to get you to spend real money, too.

  • Padding Games With Collectibles Makes You Invest More Time

    Padding Games With Collectibles Makes You Invest More Time
    Photo: BioWare

    With so much criticism for games that are on the short side - especially given the average $60 price point - game designers have taken to padding the length of games with arbitrary sidequests and collectibles. Though not all collectibles are bad (some unlock additional content or simply add flavor to a game), there is a tendency to hide them away to make a game feel like there's more to do in it. Sure, once you've paid the price for a single-player game it's not that big of a deal, but for the completionists among us, leaving any stone unturned is a mark of failure.

    Designers know that, and filling their games with meaningless content is an easy way to convince players the game is the length they want.

  • Achievements Encourage You To Sink More Time Into A Game

    Achievements Encourage You To Sink More Time Into A Game
    Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

    Whether it's completing every romance subplot or finishing a game on its hardest difficulty, achievements mark moments of success in video games. But achievements also affect the way we play video games.

    With completion being such a strong motivator for many players, achievements can mean spending a weird amount of time on something they don't actually enjoy just to say that they completed it. In MMOs and other games that require ongoing payment, achievements are a way of getting players to stick around longer than intended. One could spend an entire year grinding World of Warcraft's holiday achievements for a violet proto-drake. 

  • Limiting Your Playtime Unless You Pay Encourages Players To Spend Money

    Because video games can be all-consuming, it sounds like limiting playtime would be a good idea. But that's not really the case. Free-to-play games like Fallen London limit players actions in a specific period of time and encourage them to purchase additional actions to continue. When you're grinding something in particular, it's always a temptation to shell out real money.

    Sure, it's great to support the game, and sure, you never have to do it, but limiting your ability to play makes players even more ravenous for content - a surefire way to get them hooked.

  • Open-Ended Gameplay Means There's Never A Quitting Time

    You know when to quit a story-based game: when it's done. But when it comes to open-ended games that are dependent on the player deciding when to quit, things become a little more difficult.

    Take Overwatch, for example. Though players might hit a skill ceiling from time to time, there are multiple modes of play, an evolving cast of characters, and ongoing competitive seasons to always keep them playing. How does that serve Blizzard? Loot boxes, merch, and convincing all your friends to buy their own copies to play with you, of course.